Editor's note: This editorial discusses sensitive topics such as sexual assault.
In the words of musical icon Lily Allen, it’s hard out here for a bitch.
Recent events have left female students feeling unsafe on and around campus. A sexual assault occurred on Sept. 13 in the Shortbread Lofts parking deck. On Sept. 17, a group of women were sexually harassed outside Davis Library. And residents of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority house said a man tried to break in at night last week.
So far, none of the suspects have been caught. And because of that, we feel even more paranoid.
The fact that sexual violence would take place on UNC’s campus isn’t surprising. After all, the University was featured in the 2015 documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which highlighted the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. But the frequency at which these incidents have occurred seems higher than normal — and we are, understandably, scared.
As the number of reported crimes targeted toward women increases, yet another problem has emerged: students received an Alert Carolina message for only one of these events. However, the message, which alerted students of the sexual assault at Shortbread, was not sent until nine hours after the incident occurred.
The other incidents did not meet the criteria that would warrant an Alert Carolina notification. According to the Alert Carolina website, these criteria include “sex offenses including rape, incest, statutory rape and forcible fondling,” as well as burglary.
Sexual harassment and attempted burglary — while “troubling,” the University’s spokesperson said — apparently aren’t things UNC thinks we ought to know about (We are, however, inundated with messages practically every time a thunderstorm occurs in Chapel Hill).
But the thing is, we hear about them anyways, through word-of-mouth and social media. Rumors spread like wildfire — and the story can quickly turn into something that it’s not.
That in itself is reason for a higher authority sharing this information — we need to know the facts in order to keep ourselves safe.
Students — especially women — have a right to feel safe on campus. They should be able to walk home at night without fear of sexual assault or harassment. And the University has a responsibility as an institution to ensure the safety of its students, especially when it has failed to do so in the past.
First, the University needs to revise the Alert Carolina system to better inform the community about any potential threats to student safety. How can we be expected to protect ourselves if we don’t even know that we’re in danger?
Second, UNC Police needs to build trust between themselves as an institution and students on campus. This can be achieved by intentionally holding space for students to express their concerns, and see those concerns met with policy action. The Campus Safety Commission is holding "Listening Sessions" on Oct. 1 and 7, and we believe that there should be robust attendance by UNC Police. Moreover, time and space should be allocated at these sessions to specifically address concerns of women's physical safety and sexual and gender-based violence.
And third, the University should take some long-overdue steps to make campus safer in general. The blue light system has some serious flaws, many areas on campus could be more well-lit and security cameras wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
Women shouldn’t have to be the ones changing their behavior in order to avoid becoming victims of sexual violence. Yet that is exactly what’s happening, as women adjust their routines to minimize their risk of being attacked.
Nighttime safety is something already guaranteed to most men — for women to receive the same luxury shouldn’t be too much to ask.
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